Saturday, February 11, 2023

Kazakhstan’s Other Nationality Problem: Non-Russian Non-Kazakh Nations Almost as Numerous as Ethnic Russians There

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 9 – For half a century, Kazakhs, Russians and outside observers have focused on the changing relative size of the ethnic Kazakh and ethnic Russian populations in Kazakhstan as the ethnic Kazakhs have increased their share to more than 70 percent of the total and ethnic Russians have gone from being a plurality to only just over 15 percent.

            Over this period, neither the Kazakhs, nor the Russians nor outside observers have devoted much attention to other non-Kazakh peoples living in that republic even though their share currently amounts to almost as many as that of the ethnic Russians and even though their differences present some serious problems for Astana.

            The only exceptions to their neglect is when there is violence involving these communities, most notably the clash between Dungans and ethnic Kazakhs three years ago ( and

            That should have been a wake-up call for Kazakhstan’s leaders, but Yevgeny Zhovtis, a human rights activist in that country, says it hasn’t been, with the government going through the motions of focusing on the issue but in fact not addressing the underlying problems. As a result, more clashes are likely in the future (

            Zhovtis says that up to now, ethnic conflicts in Kazakhstan have always been between non-Russian non-Kazakhs and Kazakhs rather than among non-Kazakhs, that they have always begun as conflicts over everyday matters and then exploded with the participation of outside agitators, and that the Kazakh authorities have always been reactive rather than pro-active.

            Lying behind these three commonalities are three others that affect the situation, the rights activist says. First, the debate over whether Kazakhstan is a civic state or an ethnography remains unresolved. Second, Kazakhstan has swung between extremes of ethnic policy, typically Russification or Kazakhization rather than seeking a middle ground.

            And third – and this may play an increasing role – Kazakhstan’s non-Russian non-Kazakhs have seldom taken part in Kazakh politics; and as a result whenever there is a clash, the first impulse of those affected is to emigrate to Turkey or some Western country, often with Western help.

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